Obituary: Mikis Theodorakis wrote the theme tune of “Zorba the Greek”


IT IS QUITE presumably probably the most well-known two-note phrase in post-war European music: a stepwise journey up the size that appears like a query. Repeated time and again, it invitations you to stretch your arms out broad, elevate your chin and begin clicking your fingers. The primary time you hear the opening notes of the theme tune to “Zorba the Greek”, which was composed in a single late-night jamming session in 1964, Anthony Quinn is telling Alan Bates about his santuri, the instrument he cares for like a toddler. “It makes the most effective music. It goes with me all the time.” From then on, at each dramatic flip, you hear slightly bit extra of Zorba’s theme, till the second on the seashore when the tune swells into an ode on Grecian virility and romantic spirit as the 2 males leap into the rhythmic, slow-fast, sirtaki dance that cements their friendship.

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5 years after “Zorba”, the composer resides in inner exile in his homeland. His music has been banned, for arousing passions and inflicting strife among the many individuals, it’s mentioned. A younger lady is placed on trial for enjoying one in all his data and turning up the amount as excessive as it could go. The Greek colonels who had seized energy in 1967 judged his compositions to be within the service of communism. His two young children are forbidden from enjoying with the opposite youngsters in school; his spouse is strip-searched every time she goes purchasing for groceries—and once more when she returns to verify she is carrying no smuggled messages. He writes a poem and calls it “I Had Three Lives”:

the wind took one
the rain the opposite
and my third life
shut in behind two eyelids
was drowned in tears

The three lives of Mikis Theodorakis was a theme that may develop with the telling, till he appeared to be utilizing it to braid collectively all of the threads that gave his life that means: boundless inventive vitality, heroic political battle and personal love and sorrow. Chios, the island the place he was born, had a status for braveness and adventurism. His mom grew up within the Greek colony in Asia Minor, his father’s household on Crete, every the supply of very totally different folks traditions. The elder Theodorakis was an official within the Ministry of the Inside, so the household moved across the nation usually, exposing younger Mikis to totally different musical influences. At seven in Ioannina he discovered to sing Byzantine hymns; at ten in Argostoli, a city of seven,000 individuals and one piano, the bishop requested him to carry out the Ardour in church on Good Friday. Later, in Patras, he was given a violin and an accordion. He shaped a band and wrote his first compositions. In his teenagers he directed a choir, assembled an orchestra and gave the primary live performance at which his Byzantine ode, “Kasiani”, was performed. In his 20s, in the course of the Greek civil conflict, when he was imprisoned and tortured for being a communist, he noticed mates killed and devoted his symphonic work, “Elegy of Zanos and Karlis”, to 2 victims of the fratricidal battle.

With the arrival of peace he left Greece ultimately within the early Nineteen Fifties, profitable a bursary to check counterpoint and musical evaluation underneath Olivier Messiaen on the Paris Conservatoire. He grew to become a part of a modern circle of artists that included Salvador Dali and Jean Renoir, and rapidly made his identify as probably the most vital symphonic composers of the age. The “New Wave” was coined to explain how cinema was altering, however music and dance have been additionally a part of the nice post-war renewal. And he may effectively have stayed on the centre of it, had he not observed, one night at Covent Backyard in London, fairly how viscerally the viewers responded to the Byzantine hymns he had woven into the music for his ballet “Antigone”. Inside months, he returned to Greece and his roots in Greek music.

He sought inspiration from poets: Odysseas Elytis, and in addition Yannis Ritsos with whom he had been imprisoned in the course of the civil conflict. Drawing on rembetika, the Greek blues that’s performed in each taverna in Piraeus, he wrote music for his or her verses. So widespread did these songs develop into, a lot a part of the nation’s aural DNA, that Greeks may be capable of sing each observe he had composed but not know who wrote the phrases.

He channelled his curiosity in politics into cultural activism and energetically supported higher relations between Greece and Turkey. But he drew criticism too. Left-wing mates castigated him for suggesting, whereas the colonels have been nonetheless in energy, that Konstantin Karamanlis, the previous rightist prime minister who had banned his music, was the one chief who might restore demo-cracy to Greece. Buddies overseas blanched at his extreme criticism of Israel, his friendship with the Serbian chief Slobodan Milosevic and his durations of help for the Soviet bloc.

Three lives

However to guage him for who he cosied as much as politically is to misconceive the deep roots of his recognition. Going again not less than so far as the revolution of 1821, insurgent songs and poetry have allowed variations of opinion to be given voice in Greece. In different international locations, as Vaclav Havel confirmed in post-communist Czechoslovakia and now Bobi Wine in Uganda, nothing unsettles entrenched energy fairly like a pied piper.

If there was a day when his three lives got here collectively, it was September twenty second 1971. Greeks poured into Athens for the funeral of the Nobel-prizewinning poet, George Seferis. Slowly they started to sing the tune that he had composed for Seferis’s poem, “Denial”. From throughout the gang rose cries of Dimokratia! Eleftheria!—Democracy! Freedom!—phrases that had barely been whispered for the reason that colonels seized energy. On an previous recording, the shouts sound like gunfire. It might take one other three years, and far extra stress, however within the rhythm of his soulful anthem—an anthem that each Greek is aware of—on that autumn day you’ll be able to hear the seemingly implacable face of the junta begin to crack.

This text appeared within the Obituary part of the print version underneath the headline “Soul music”

20210918 cuk1280 - Obituary: Mikis Theodorakis wrote the theme tune of “Zorba the Greek”

From the September 18th 2021 version

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